Temperamental chefs, fussy customers, late deliveries and sloppy cleaning staff: all things considered, being a restaurant manager can throw up its fair share of headaches. While head chef Gordon Ramsay might be able to blow his fuse and get away with it on Hell's Kitchen, being a manager typically requires a much more subtle approach.
"People are paying good money for food so they want everything to be right," says Bruce Lavender, the Scottish general manager of the Rubicon Restaurant in Dublin. "If there's a complaint, I'm in the firing line."
Despite the occasional blow-up from a customer, Lavender says the job offers a good quality of life. Like many restaurant managers he has worked his way from the ground up. "I went to college in 1985 for two years and got a diploma in business management and did a bit of travelling. I then got a job with Burger King as a trainee manager and worked up to area manager."
He worked in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester with Burger King. In 1995, he went travelling again for two years and met his future wife while in Australia. As she was from Dublin, Lavender landed in Ireland in 1996, starting out as a waiter in Fitzer's restaurant in Temple Bar before moving to Rubicon two years later, becoming general manager in 2001.
Food for thought
Lavender says his business management diploma wasn't a major factor in his career. "It gets you an interview, that's all, because employers are looking for it. It's more your personality that matters - it's important you like dealing with people, have a bit of common sense and don't mind the long, unsociable hours," he says. "When I'm interviewing staff, I don't ask what qualifications they have at all.
"It helps if you know about food, but you don't really have to know that much," he adds. "Obviously wine is a different thing, it helps to be a wine connoisseur."
Restaurant managers' hours can be unsociable. Shifts vary and managers can be onsite until closing time on the busiest days of the week. "Even though I'm on my feet most of the day I prefer that. I'm not really an office type of person," says Lavender. "It's flexible working hours. If I wanted four days off to go back to Scotland I could take Saturday and Sunday off one week then Monday and Tuesday the week after."
Case-study : Oscar winner
Sinead Hughes recently won the Rosemount Young Restaurant Manager of the Year award. She is manager of Oscar's restaurant, a 45-seater premises in Galway City. She doesn't have any formal qualifications and instead worked her way up the ranks, starting out as a waitress in a premises in Westport, Co Mayo.
"I still call myself a waitress," says Hughes. "That's what I believe I am. There's no distinctions. We all clean the toilets, polish cutlery, look after the wine. At the end of the day I know I set the rules and set the tone of the place, but I find that it's easier when there's no one person higher than the other - you have better camaraderie, better respect and your team appreciates one another more."
To manage a restaurant successfully you need to have a passion for the business, according to Hughes. "To do this job you have to love food and wine and you have to love meeting people. It's a real buzz.
"Be prepared to work hard, put in the hours, love your job. You have to be confident, know your menus inside out, know where your food's coming from and know your wines," she adds.
Patience is another attribute she recommends in any aspiring restaurant manager. While the hours may seem unsociable, Hughes says this doesn't bother her. "I think it's a very sociable job. You're meeting people constantly," she says.
Hughes praises Fáilte Ireland's training courses, but says: "It's great to have the knowledge, but you have to be able to implement it. Nothing beats hands-on experience."